At Race Street Café this month you can wrap your head around the kaleidoscopic creations of S. Leser and the organic meanderings of Gaby Heit. As a somewhat unconventional gallery space, the café is a great little nook to grab lunch and entertain your eyes with some optical art all at once.
The two artists on display cross over in some areas as they both create entirely abstract design works, but one deviation is certainly the use of color. Leser’s works, which are immediately reminiscent of desaturated kaleidoscope patterns, are round and intricately rendered in perfect symmetry. Encountering such detail and mirror-like symmetry in contemporary art often redirects our thinking to the use of digital mediums, but Leser painstakingly pens her images by hand.
Gradients and shading fill in the geometric areas that Leser forms by tracing any object found lying around the house. This process is certainly akin to the playfulness inherent in the wonder of kaleidoscopic patterns. From the innocence of children’s toys to the awe of internal psychedelic forms, the symbol of the mandala has always been an image that speaks to interconnectedness and ideas of universality beyond the twisting play of repeated motifs. Leser’s mandalas also draw instant parallels to hex signs for anyone who has spent time in rural Pennsylvania Dutch country. If not for their lack of bright, bold colors, the precise spokes of her drawings could easily be imagined hanging on the side of a barn in Berks County.
If bright hues are your thing, then Gaby Heit’s pieces definitely help to splash some color into this show. Heit’s drawings are surreal and reminiscent of Joan Miró’s crossing lines and patches of solid color. Their biological patterns twist and turn like amoebas under glass; some even have little cilia – or hair-like structures – protruding from them, which adds to their perceived life. Heit sometimes introduces snippets of other forms, like eyes and leaves, or lays her designs over newspaper text or photos to anchor them (albeit slightly) to recognizable reality.
Race Street’s adornments are great for just such a setting. These pieces are small and unobtrusive enough to complement a dining environment, and more design-based than content-laden, which adds to the appeal. So if you’re in Old City to see art, be sure to grab a bite or a beer and indulge your eyes at the same time.